Social Media is Hitting the Mainstream. How are Health Plans Adapting?

This is the first post in what I hope to make an occasional series in the use of social media by health plans to engage their members to become healthier and better consumers of health care services. By social media, I am referring to activities that integrate technology, telecommunications and social interaction, and the construction of words, pictures, videos and audio.[1] In short, I am talking about blogging and the use of web sites like YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

It seems to me that 2009 promises to be, for these forms of media, what 1996 was for email. Prior to 1996, I remember being hard pressed to find anyone with an email address, and if they did have one, they rarely checked it. Likewise with cell phones, how many people could you reach on a cell phone in 1996? Not many, I’ll bet. Yet a few years later everyone was driving down the road chatting to their finds and business associates.

Similar to these other communications technologies, the so called social media channels are going mainstream and corporations and non-profit organizations alike are making an effort to understand this new media and how to use it to engage customers and clients on a level that could never occur in the one-way information flow of traditional advertising .

If you are still a social media skeptic – it’s just for kids – consider this. A recent survey by Deloitte & Touche found that 43% of Internet users over 61 spent time sharing photographs with people. 36% watched and read personal content created by others. The average blogger is a white, 37-year-old male. 38% of Facebook users are over 35. More than 67% of MySpace users are 26 or over.

This might explain while Barack Obama had over 165.000 “Followers” on Twitter when he posted his last “Tweet” the day after he was elected President of the United States. It would explain why organizations from Starbucks to the animal shelter Wayside Waifs have thousands of people following their updates on Twitter and Facebook.

Now the question becomes, if Starbucks can use Facebook to influence me to do some volunteer work in exchange for a free cup of coffee, and if Wayside Waifs can Twitter me into believing I should adopt a homeless dog, can my health plan convince me to drop a few pounds, lower the cholesterol, and check my blood pressure?

That’s what I hope to find out. I have scheduled a series of interviews with people at the county’s largest health plans to learn what, if anything, they are doing to use social media to engage their members. It should be interesting, so check back soon for the next installation.

Up next: Innovation at Humana.


[1] Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_media

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